Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Little Things Of Life

Gemma-Rose has a new calculator. It's small and red, just perfect for a girl like her. She wants to put it in a pencil case.

"But I don't have a pencil case," she tells Mum.

"Why don't you look on the craft shelves?" Mum suggests. "There might be one there."

So Gemma-Rose and I comb the shelves. There are paintbrushes, pencils, glue, and pens. But no pencil case for a small red calculator.

"Let's try the chest-of-drawers in the garage," I say. "There might be one in there."

We hurry out to the garage and start rootling around in the drawers. There is even more stuff in the drawers than there was on the shelves. We look through mounds of paper, jars of beads, coloured pencils enough to sink a battleship. But there's still no pencil case for a small red calculator.

Gemma-Rose is disappointed. She has a nice new red calculator, and we can't find a pencil case to put it in so she doesn't lose it. I think very hard. Where could we find one? And then it comes to me.

"Come with me," I say. "I think I might have an old one in my desk."

Gemma-Rose's face brightens. She skips to my room. We hunt through the drawers. And there it is. An old purple pencil case filled with forgotten pens. Quickly I shake out the pens and hand it to Gemma-Rose. A huge smile spreads over her face.

"Thank you!" she cries. "I always loved this pencil case. It's so grown up. Oh, thank you."

I smile a little awkwardly. To tell the truth, I hadn't though about that pencil case for months. Certainly it didn't require much effort to give it to her.

Right now I can see Gemma-Rose threading some ribbon through the zipper of her new second-hand pencil case. She's so delighted with my cast off case. She doesn't care that it's not new. All she knows is that now she has a place to put her lovely new red calculator. And she's very happy. Truly, it's the little things of life that make people happiest.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Watching Jane Eyre

We're Jane Austen girls. We've read all her novels several times each and are constantly discussing some aspect or other of her life or writing. Charlotte in particular loves to read about Jane Austen's life and times. Her head is whirring with unusual Austen facts such as:

"Did you know that Colonel Brandon didn't have a first name?" or "Did you know that Colin Firth, the BBC actor of Mr Darcy wouldn't take his shirt off to swim through the lake?" or most recently "Did you know that the Bronte sisters didn't like Jane Austen and her writing?"

That last one made me stop and think. I've read so much Jane Austen, but hardly any books by the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Several years ago I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for school work. But it had never before occurred to me to read any of her other books. I resolved to try out some others before too much longer.

It was only a couple of days later when I discovered that the Cinema was playing the new Jane Eyre movie. At once both Charlotte and I longed to go and see it.

"Look up the times and we'll get you to a showing," Mum said.

So it was off to the computer to check the times. A time was decided upon and relayed to Mum. Then we had a brainwave.

"How about we ask Mum to come with us? She'd probably enjoy it."

Mum was delighted to be asked. Mum is not a movie person normally, but the new Jane Eyre might just be worth going to see.

Tickets bought, we waited outside the cinema door. Charlotte and I eagerly discussed everything Bronte: the sisters's pseudonymous, the story of Jane Eyre, the other version we'd watched. Mum sat on a chair and watched us, by now used to us spouting strange knowledge.

Then the doors opened. We hurried inside, picked the best seats, and waited for the movie to start. The lights dimmed. My excitement mounted. And then the movie started.

I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. The beautiful scenery, the enthralling storyline, the characters, everything drew me into another world. I followed Jane's tragic story with avid interest. Then, suddenly it was all over. The credits rolled across the screen, the lights switched back on and we were walking out of the dim cinema into the bright light of day.

"So, what did you think?" Mum asked.

"It was great," Charlotte the fussy-about -movies said. "I really enjoyed it."

"Let's get the books of Jane Eyre out when we get home and read the real story," I suggested. "You haven't read it yet have you Charlotte?"

A new bunch of books now lies before us. Will we enjoy Charlotte Bronte's books even more than Jane Austen's. What about the other two sisters, Emily and Anne? I'm sure that Charlotte will raid the library for books about the Bronte sisters and their writings. Maybe one day we'll be the Bronte sisters rather than the Jane Austen sisters. Who knows?

What writers do you like? Do you like to find out more about them and their books? Have you read any of the Bronte sisters's books?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Terrible Truth About Technology

It all started when Mum got a new laptop. Her old netbook, no longer needed, was passed down the line to me. Suddenly a whole new world was open to me. I had instant access to the internet whenever I needed (or wanted) it. I could write anywhere in the house, not just at my desk. The possibilities were endless. Certainly I could update my blog far more regularly.

Time passed. I was quite in love with my little netbook. Everyday there were blog posts to read, comment on, and to write. Then, one day, Gemma-Rose asked me to do something for her.

"In a minute," I mumbled, absorbed in my blog reading. "I'm busy."

"You're always on your laptop," she complained.

"No I'm not." I thought back guiltily to the hours I'd already spent on the internet that day. I wasn't always on the internet...was I?

"I've been reading this great book about Jane Austen," Charlotte said. "You should read it."

"I will." The book went back to the library without my having read it. Where was I? On the internet of course.

Finally, I realised that something must be done. "You're spending too much time on the internet," I told myself. "You don't need to check every blog sixteen times a day, or click every single link to find out where it goes. You're just wasting time and you know it."

And so, I have made a resolution. I shall not spend every single free minute on my netbook. I shall go outside and play with the little girls. I shall cook scones. I shall read real books. And I shan't miss it one little bit. But I have learnt the terrible truth about technology. If you're not careful, it'll take over your life. One day you'll wake up and realise that you are glued to your computer. So, who's in charge of your life, you or your computer?

Do you ever find that you're wasting time on the computer? How do you combat it? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watching Time Tick

We walked down the brick path. I clutched my pencil and rubber in my hand. A musicianship exam was something new to me. Piano exams I knew about, but musicianship exams were something else entirely. What would it be like?

I waved my family off, and waited outside the door to the exam room. Other people straggled up. We went into the room together.

"Please find your tables," the lady in charge told us. We did as she said, setting our pencils and rubbers up on the tabletops and making sure we were as ready as possible.

Five out of the ten tables were still empty as we began the ten minute reading period. A school girl came in as we scanned our papers.

Four out of the five girls appeared before the exam started. "Where's the last one?" the lady in charge asked.

"I think she's gone skiing," one of the other girls volunteered.

I was very surprised. She had missed an exam to go skiing? Unbelievable!

"You can now start."

We snatched up our pencils and started marking in answers. Half an hour slipped by. Suddenly I was at the end of my paper. There was still an hour left to go before I could leave. Sighing I flipped back through the paper. Maybe I could re-compose the melody? That took a few minutes, but soon I was finished again.

The clock still said we had forty five minutes to go. I checked through my answers, then checked the clock. And checked the answers again. The minutes crawled past ever so slowly. Now everyone was finished. Some people put their heads down on the tables and appeared to go to sleep. Others stared off into space. I watched the clock and wondered what my sisters were doing.

"Ten minutes to go."

I checked through my paper one last time. The minute hand inched round. Out of the window I saw Mum and the girls arrive. Then suddenly we were free to go.

"We had chocolate milk and biscuits for afternoon tea," Gemma-Rose announced.

"Did you save me some?"

"Of course!"

"We're going to go to the park," Mum said.

We piled in the van and drove to the park. Once the chocolate milk was drunk and the biscuits were eaten, we ran off to play. Gemma-Rose wanted to play on the swings. Sophie wanted to play ships. We all ended up on the see-saw.

"Time to go home!" Mum called at last. We straggled back to the van.

"How was the exam?" she asked.

"Fine. Boring. I don't think I'm much bothered about exams. They're not as bad as piano exams. But soooooo boring."

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Brother Who Gives

My two brothers are completely different. Callum is friendly and outgoing. He is at home everywhere and talks to everyone. Duncan on the other hand is quiet. He's the one who plays with the younger children and looks after babies. He's the saver, who goes shopping and never buys anything.

But Duncan has his friendly side too. Just ask him about a movie, or a myth and he could talk for hours. He has a sense of humour too, and smiles away to himself at a private joke.

When Duncan finished his degree, he was at a loss as to what to do. Get a job? Probably a good idea. Spend more time with the family? Might be nice. Spend less time in his room on his own? Definitely. And so the new Duncan was born.

He reintroduced me to the world of Dr Who. Every evening we'd sit down and watch another episode while he told me funny little anecdotes about it. He went out and got a job. Suddenly there was a new Duncan, still quiet, but more daring, ready to try new things.

Last night he came home from work and walking into our room. He held his hands behind his back, hiding something. Then suddenly, a big grin covered his face as he revealed a movie and a bag of chocolates just for Charlotte and me.

Just a few nights ago, he did the same for the younger girls, a borrowed movie and a bag of marshmallows. Suddenly Duncan is showering us with gifts straight from his kind heart. He seems to get as much pleasure out of giving us these gifts as we get from receiving them. What better brother could you ask for?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Riley; Free Giveaway?

It seems to me that if you want lot of people to come and visit your blog, you have to host a free giveaway. Something about the words 'free' and 'giveaway' seem to magnetise people towards your blog. If I was to host a giveaway, what would I offer? How about an unwanted cat called Riley? Would anyone have wanted her?

She sounded so good at first. A pedigree brown Burmese, friendly, loving and a real family cat. She was free to a good home, and we were a good home weren't we? We jumped at the offer, and took her on a trial basis. But we were sure she was going to be fine.

But from the very first moment, she was trouble. She cowered behind the sofa, hissing and spitting at any cat who came near. Our day was punctuated with unearthly yowls issuing from the furniture.
"Oh," we'd say. "It's only Riley."

Sammy was confused by Riley. He'd sneak up on her, wanting to play. But as soon as she saw him she'd hiss and run away, or try to scratch him. He'd look around, confusion written all over his face. What was wrong? Why didn't she want to play?

Riley, it seemed, didn't want to do anything. She only wanted to cuddle when it meant protection against the other cats. And if she wasn't behind the sofa, she was curled up in someone's bed, fast asleep. However, that didn't last for long.

Charlotte came flying out of our room. "Mum!" she cried. "Riley's been to the kitty litter on my bed."

We washed the sheets, blankets and pillows, and for several days, everything was calm. Then: "Mum, she's done it again." And again. And again. Seven times she messed up on Charlotte's bed, until Charlotte could hardly stand the sight of her. Everyone, it seemed, was getting tired of her. Her only supporter was Gemma-Rose.

Gemma-Rose had always wanted a cat that would like to be carried around, sit on her lap, and sleep in her bed. Riley didn't mind any of these thing. She seemed the perfect pet for Gemma-Rose. Every night, as she was heading off to bed for the night, Gemma-Rose would collect the cat. We wouldn't hear another peep from either of them until the next morning. But then Riley made a fatal mistake.

Early one Sunday morning, I was getting breakfast in the kitchen before anyone else was up. Little feet pattered on the floor. I turned, and saw a very grumpy looking Gemma-Rose standing next to me.
"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Riley went to the kitty litter in my bed," she said. "While I was in it."
It was the last straw. Riley just couldn't stay any longer. We'd given her every chance, put up with her for months. What were we going to do with her? Could we giver her away for free?

Dad organised everything. "Come on Imogen," he called. "Grab her toys. We're taking Riley back to her home."

Not even Gemma-Rose was sad to see the back of Riley. She'd caused way too much trouble.

Her large eyes looked round nervously as Dad carried her in his arms up the street. Where was she? Why wasn't she inside? Where was she going? Why was she in the arms of this woman? Hang on, she remembered this place. It was her old home.

Not long afterwards, we heard that Riley was looking for a new home. She was already back to her messy tricks. We all hoped that one day, she'd find the perfect home, one with no other cats.

For those of you who came here looking for a real free giveaway, the only thing I can offer you is prayers. If you'd like me to pray for you or your intentions, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cold Knees, Warm Hearts

It was the feast of the Assumption. We scrambled out of the car in our thick winter coats.The sun shone down, warming us up so that the coats didn't seem necessary. But we knew better. As we stepped into the church, the temperature dropped several degrees, despite the gas heaters trying valiantly to heat the enormous space.

We knelt down on the hard, wooden kneelers. Shifting and wriggling I tried to find the most comfortable way of kneeling on those kneelers. But there didn't seem to be a way to position my knees so that they didn't become sore.

A bell rang three times. The organ started to play the first hymn. We sprang to our feet, hymn books in hands. The three priests and the altar servers processed out. The gold and blue vestments caught the light. A general feeling of specialness came over me.

Mass seemed to be over far too quickly, despite being an hour long. As the last of the shining vestments disappeared through the door, it seemed that this special celebration was over. But then the priest reappeared and prepared for benediction.

At once we were back on our knees. I didn't feel the hardness of the kneelers as we prayed the rosary. I didn't feel the cold as we sang the Latin benediction parts from memory. I was lost in the beauty of the occasion.

The organ rang out again, heralding the very last hymn. A smile lit up my face. This hymn made me feel five again, back in a catechism class piping away, "Ave, ave, ave Maria."

Then it really was over. We shuffled outside into the warm midday air. I smiled, thankful for the opportunity to come to this beautiful mass. Despite the cold, the hardness of the kneelers, and all, it had proved to be the most beautiful mass for Mary I had ever been to.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Books After Bedtime

If you were to come and visit my family, one of the first things you would notice as you stepped through the door, would be the large bookcases in the entrance hall. Walk further into the house and you'd see that almost every room contains at least one bookshelf. And you'd also see that every single one is stuffed with books.

Every book in our vast collection is an old friend. Lots of them are second hand. Some are birthday or Christmas presents. But all of them are well loved. If you haven't guessed it by now, we are a family of readers.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of books through bedtime stories. Dad would sit down in one of the armchairs and we hold out our books to him before perching on his lap, kneeling on the floor, or sitting on the arm of the chair to listen to the story. Once he was finished we would beg him to 'read another one Dad. Please!'

Later in the evening, when Charlotte and I were in bed, Dad would read the Lord of the Rings to my brothers and older sister. Well, technically we were supposed to be in bed. But actually only Charlotte was tuck up safely in bed. I was crouched beside the door, shivering in my pyjamas, trying to hear Dad's voice as he read to the others.

Then, a few years later, I discovered the delights of Jane Austen's books. I devoured every one, savouring the stories and filing away numerous wonderful quotes in my head. But reading them alone wasn't enough. I just had to share the books. And so I found a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and brought it to read to Charlotte in bed one night.

She fell in love with it at once. Every night after that, I read to her. We read our way through half of Jane Austen's books as well as numerous other books. Every night I would stop at the end of a chapter, my voice worn out from reading and Charlotte would pipe up from the bunk underneath, "Oh please can you read another chapter."

Eventually we discovered that the library allowed you to borrow lots and lots of books. Every library trip started with an empty bag, and ended with us staggering to the car under stacks of books almost taller than we were. There was hardly an author in the library that we didn't sample at least once. The YA section was left nearly empty when we were done.

We've been brought up on reading. Nothing delights us more than to curl up in a chair with a favourite book, or maybe a brand new book just brought back from the library. And now the reading fever has spread to Sophie and Gemma-Rose too. Maybe one day we'll have read all the books worth reading. And then what? Why, we'll write our own books of course. You see, we are a family of writers too...but that's another story.

What books do you like to read? Do you come home from the library with a huge stack of books?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Of Cakes and Poems

I'd like to share a lovely little poem Sophie wrote in honour of our exams. Plus some photos of our yummy cake of course.

Piano Exam

Piano exams today, today, today,
Piano exams are on the way,
Piano, piano, piano.

They're playing in the exams today, today, today,
Piano exams are being held
Piano, piano, piano.

The piano exams were played today, today, today,
They went very well indeed,
Piano, piano, piano.

A Bunch Of Roses

I sat in the practice room. Charlotte was in her exam already. My fingers moved through the notes of my pieces automatically. In my head I was desperately trying to remember everything I had been taught over the last few months.

"What does this French mean? How does this piece go again? Oh I hope I don't forget how to play my memorised pieces."

Nervousness fluttered at my heart. For a moment I tensed up. Then I gave myself a mental slap.

"It doesn't matter that you're under prepared. It doesn't matter that the teacher forgot a whole lot of things. As long as I pass the exam I'll be happy. Why worry about it?"

At once I felt more relaxed. I was almost cheerful as I stepped into the exam room. But the dread of exams still lingered. Images still flitted through my mind. I'd forgotten how to play a piece. the examiner had asked me to do something I'd never heard of before. I couldn't remember any of my general knowledge."

"The first scale is..." I was off!
The pieces whizzed by. I didn't happen to forget anything. I was able to answer most of the questions. And suddenly the exam was over and I was walking out of the room with my result clutched in my cold hand.

Outside, in the bitter air, faithful Charlotte was sitting on the steps, waiting for me to come out.

"I'm sorry, I had to open my results before you came out. Mr C. wanted to know."

"Never mind." I knew she'd wanted to wait.

"How did you do?" Mr C asked.
We looked at my results. Wow! I'd done really quite well, considering.

"I didn't want to tell you this before," Mrs C said, "but you had a tough examiner too. You've both done really well."

There weren't any disappointed tear like last year. We fairly flew to the car where Mum and the two smaller girls were waiting patiently for us.

"Wow! I'm so pleased." Mum gave us each a big smile. "Let's go out for hot chocolate shall we?"

"OH YES PLEASE!" we chorused.

Over hot chocolate and donuts we discussed the exams.

"I didn't like the singing," Charlotte said. "And I'd never done one of the ear test before."
I shuddered. That's my greatest fear, apart from failing of course.

"I didn't like the general knowledge. She wanted to know how many movements my sonata had and I didn't know," I said.

"Never mind. It's all over now." Mum said. "How about I get a cake and something nice for lunch while you finish up here?"

Soon we saw her come out of the shop, her trolley full of good things.

"These are for you." Mum handed Charlotte and me each a bunch of beautiful roses. Charlotte's were pink and mine orange.

"Oh thank you," I cried. "I've never been given flowers before."

"Let's put our bunches together in a vase," I suggested to Charlotte on the way home.

"They'll look so nice together," she agreed enthusiastically.

We trooped back to the car, all happy and contented. Exams are terrifying things, but they gave us some good things: roses, hot chocolate, and cake. I think it was well worth it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Balloons in Orbit

Dad marched out of his room, a packet of balloons in one hand and a ball of string in another.
"What are you doing Dad?" we asked.
"I'm testing a science experiment for school. I'm going to do rocket balloon races.'

We gathered round as Dad set up his race track: Two pieces of string stretched between two chairs.
"Are you sure the balloons will make it all the way down the hall?"
"Look how big they are. They should easily be able to."

Willing hands held the ends of the balloons as Dad prepared them for launching. Charlotte gripped one balloon, and I held another.
"Ready?" Dad asked. "Count down. Five...Four...Three...Two...One...Launch."
We released the balloons and looked for them to go steaming down the track. Instead they trundled a few inches before blowing out the rest of the air in a silly noise.

We collapsed on the floor, laughing. We'd blown the balloons so big. The track was so long. And they'd travelled...Nowhere.

"Let's try again, but with one bit of straw this time." Dad fixed up the balloons and we were ready again.
"Launch." We let go. The balloons whirled round and round the string before blasting off, only to come to rest halfway down the track.

"Let's put the straws further down the balloons." So we reloaded again.
"Launch." The balloons span round the string even more. We watched in disappointment. Suddenly, they shot off down the track like racing greyhounds. My balloon reach the end easily, but Charlotte's balloon reached the end and just kept going. It tore free of the tape holding it on the straw and went into orbit.

Laughter rang out.
"Let's do that again Dad."

Over and over again we released the balloons until Dad finally said, "Enough."
"Oh," we said. "We were having so much fun."
"You do realise that that was science?"
"Yes, but it was so much fun."
Who says learning can't be fun?

Have you ever done an experiment that turned out unexpectedly funny?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Playing With Panic

For months Charlotte and I have been preparing for our piano exams. We've spend hours and hours on the piano stool, hammering away at the keys. Now, all of a sudden, the exams are upon us. There's exactly one week until the Big Day. And frankly? I'm terrified.

I've never been a fan of exams. Just thinking about them is enough to make me nervous. I hate the feeling of someone judging me and my performance. And having someone sitting there, as unemotional as a brick, writing on a piece of paper, is enough to make anyone scared. Well, almost everyone.

Charlotte doesn't care about exams. She sits quietly outside, reading a book, walks blithely into the examination room, plays her pieces, takes her envelope, walks out, and resumes reading. She's not even faintly curious about her result. Nerves of steel? I should think so.

Now I know the exam is almost here, I'm have fits of panic. I worry so badly about failing. I imagine forgetting my carefully memorised pieces, of not being able to answer the questions, of not even being able to sing an interval. In short, I'm a nervous wreck.

But, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if I pass or not. I'm not hankering to be a concert pianist. I won't died if I don't get a good mark.The world won't end if I mess up a piece. So why worry? Even if I play horribly, it's not a true representation of what I can actually do, of how good I really am.

So, when I step into that exam room, will I be as calm and confident as Charlotte? No, probably not. But I will be safe in the knowledge that I'm loved, no matter how bad I do.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Sisters Come Begging

"Imogen, can you help me write a blog post?...Take me to the park?...Play with me?" my two smallest sisters beg. In my mind I am groaning.
"But I'm busy right now," I say. The words are out before I even think about it. Their hopeful faces fall and they shuffle off, leaving me to drown in a puddle of guilt.

It's sometimes hard to be an older sister. So many things crowd in on free time. Preparation for an upcoming exam, cooking the dinner, trying to complete some school work in my free moments. Often I feel overwhelmed.Certainly I don't feel like taking some of my precious free time to help Sophie and Gemma-Rose.

I try to make an effort sometimes. I mostly get round to helping them with their blog posts, finding just the right words and pictures to say what they want to say. Sometimes I even find time to take them down the road to the park where we can play soccer.

But there are so many opportunities that I miss. So many times I could have helped and I didn't on the plea that I was 'busy'. I promise myself that I will be better 'after the exam' or 'on the weekend'. But it never happens.

Is it just me being lazy? Do I actually have a reason for being busy? Well, sometimes. But I guess I could definitely try harder. After all, when I was small, I wanted help too, though that fact is conveniently blotted from my memory.

And, after all, is it too much to ask to take half an hour to help? Going to the park is so much fun. I love kicking the soccer ball around with my sisters. It's fun to write down blog posts too, though checking spelling, grammar and punctuation isn't so good. No, there nothing for it but to admit it. I'm too lazy to bother.

Next time, when Sophie and Gemma-Rose come to me for help however, I'm not going to be lazy. I'm going to smile at them and say, "Of course I can help." I know I'll be amply rewarded by their happy faces and whole hearted joy. And what could be better than that?